Most Unique and Rare Saltwater Aquarium Fish

peppermint angelfish

vojce / Getty Images

Rare and unique saltwater aquarium fish are a thrilling addition to any serious fish-keepers collection. Before you seek out any of these special beauties, always question how these fish are collected and if the practice is sustainable. We all want to make sure these fish are available for generations to enjoy.

  • 01 of 05

    Colin's Angelfish (Paracentropyge colini)

    Colin's Angelfish

    LemonTYK / Flickr / CC by 2.0

    Originating from the Western and South Pacific, these vibrant beauties have a distinctive yellow body with blue to black on the head and anterior dorsal fin. They prefer darker marine environments and will nip at corals, preferring to graze on macro-algae as their main diet.

    These fish can be very shy, so it is important to introduce them to the aquarium before adding more aggressive fish. The Colin's Angelfish is rare due to its deep water habitat, making it easier to hide from capture.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 3.5 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Yellow body with vivid blue coloring on the head and upper quarter of the body; blue ring around the eye

  • 02 of 05

    Flashlight Fish (Anomalops katoptron)

    Flashlight Fish

     Borut Furlan / Getty Images

    Also known as the Two-fin Flashlight Fish or Lantern Fish, these dark fish have a unique light-colored skin patch under each eye, containing bioluminescent bacteria. This symbiosis creates a glow-in-the-dark appearance in dim light. The fish are able to blink this light on and off, providing communication between schoolmates, the ability to distract predators and to lure zooplankton snacks.

    Adapted to nocturnal living, these fish are well suited to other night dwellers, such as Pinecone fish, Squirrel fish and Cardinal fish. Nocturnal aquariums require low lighting and lots of hiding places. Flashlight fish will do well in groups and are overall peaceful fish. These fish are rare due to their keen ability to hide in the dark. They are not bred in captivity at this time.

    Species Overview

    Length: 5.5 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Mostly black body with some variations of purplish-brown, with a unique light-colored skin patch under each eye containing bioluminescent bacteria

  • 03 of 05

    Yellow Multibanded Pipefish (Doryhamphus pessuliferus)

    Yellow Multibanded Pipefish

    Dave Fleetham / Getty Images

    Syngnathids, including seahorses and pipefish, in general, can be a challenge for any fish-keeper. These fish are sticklers for good water quality and can have severe picky-eating disorders. Many will fall ill to Mycobacterium spp. infections secondary to being weak upon arrival at their new homes.

    Brightly colored in bands of yellow and deep red rings around their body, the Yellow Multibanded Pipefish makes a vibrant addition to a peaceful marine community. They prefer to be kept in male-female pairs or in a group. They will not do well with aggressive fish of any variety and cannot coexist with stinging anemones or soft corals.

    Species Overview

    Length: 7.5 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Long body with colored bands of yellow and deep red rings; tubular mouth

  • 04 of 05

    Fingered Dragonet (Dactylopus dactylopus)

    Fingered Dragonet

    Getty Images / Daniela Dirscherl 

    A rare bottom-dwelling addition to any reef tank, the Fingered Dragonet is a modest fish with a dramatic dorsal fin. Similar to the Scooter Blenny, and otherwise known as the Mother Sailfin Dragonet, the Fingered Dragonet is accentuated with bright blue spots around their head and anal fin.

    Like other blennies, the Fingered Dragonet likes to burrow in sandy substrate and eat tiny live foods, such as mysis, within live rock. The addition of a refugium will allow you to grow additional foods to have readily available for your fish. You can keep more than one of these in an aquarium, but be sure to add them all at once so there is no competition for the best burrows and feeding spots.

    The Fingered Dragonet is rare since it is hard to find amongst the reef and is a very picky eater in captivity.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 11.8 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Dramatic dorsal fin, with a spotted body and colorful fins and bright spots around the face

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  • 05 of 05

    Peppermint Angelfish (Paracentropyge boylei)

    Peppermint Angelfish

     vojce / Getty Images

    Angelfish are very common in marine aquariums, but the Peppermint Angelfish is an exceptionally rare variety. These brightly colored white and red banded fish are highly elusive in a reef and as of March 2019, only one was available for public display at the Waikiki Aquarium.

    At a maximum length of 2.5 inches, it is said this is the most expensive reef fish per inch! If you are lucky enough to bring one of these fish home, they require a large aquarium of at least 125 gallons and are fed like other marine angelfish.

    Species Overview

    Length: Up to 2.5 inches

    Physical Characteristics: Short, compact orange body with thick white vertical bands.

Of course, these rare and unique fish are not for the beginner fish-keeper! Before you get ready to bring any of these fish into your home, make sure you've mastered the basic beginner stages. If you're just getting started in aquariums, get acquainted with beginner fish. Keep in mind that any serious investment will require a well-planned and implemented fish system!